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Report Investigating Perinatal Deaths: We need to do more for mums and babies in the UK

Report Investigating Perinatal Deaths: We need to do more for mums and babies in the UK

We’re moving in the right direction, but we need to get there quicker to catch up with the aspirational targets of halving stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2025.

The latest MBRRACE-UK report was published this month, which aims to “reduce risk through audits and confidential enquiries” to mums and babies. It looked at UK perinatal deaths from January to December 2016 and has reported a reduction in the number and rates of perinatal deaths.

In a similar vein to the MBRRACE Report foreword itself, it is important to note that each baby’s death belongs to a bereaved family and this should be respected and recognised throughout. The intention behind both the report and the charity’s work is to reduce this misery for associated families and healthcare professionals.

What Did the Report Say?
Generally, we seem to be moving in the right direction; however, more work needs to be done to reach government targets to halve stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2025.

Of over 780,000 births in the UK in 2016, a reported 4402 babies were stillborn or died in the neonatal period. Overall, there was a reduction in mortality between 2013 – 2016 of about 2.4%. There was also an improved survival rate for twins, with stillbirths almost halving since 2014, and neonatal deaths in twins reducing by almost a third.

Moving in the Right Direction, but Need to Get There Faster
Though there has been an overall reduction in stillbirths and neonatal deaths, in order to meet the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care’s target of halving stillbirths by 2025, we need to almost double the current rate of reduction each year. More needs to be done.

Improvements are Possible
Around 1 in 3 stillbirths and neonatal deaths occur at term. The recent report by MBRRACE-UK in November 2017 reported that nearly 80% of those intrapartum term deaths investigated may have been preventable with different care. Similarly, a report into term antepartum stillbirths found that 60% of deaths may have been preventable.

In addition, there needs to be more effort to improve care pathways for babies at risk of being born too soon, or too small. Around 40% of stillbirths occur before 32 weeks gestational age, and similarly over half of neonatal deaths occur before 32 weeks gestational age. Around 70% of all extended perinatal deaths occur before term, and nearly 40% are extremely preterm at before 28 weeks. As the report suggests, in order to meet national aspirations there needs to be a focus on strategies to predict and prevent circumstances leading to preterm deaths, as the majority are likely to be different than for those babies who die at term.

As well as noted avoidable deaths with improvements to care, there is still evidence of regional variation in mortality, although less than previously. Some regions have lower mortality rates which are not accounted for by key factors which are known to increase the risk of perinatal mortality (e.g. mother’s age and socioeconomic deprivation).

What is Baby Lifeline Doing?
As well as improvements to reporting, which MBRRACE recommend will be alleviated with the timely use of the Perinatal Mortality Review Tool, we believe that training teams in implementing appropriate and evidence-based care pathways to prevent stillbirths and babies being born too early or small, is key.

We work with an expert team to look at the prediction and prevention of stillbirth, preterm birth, and babies that are small for their gestational age, and provide accessible training nationally to midwives and doctors. The study day, ‘Implementing Saving Babies’ Lives: prevention of preterm births, growth restriction, and stillbirth’, will guide clinicians in relation to diagnosis, investigation and management.

The team behind the training:

  • Professor Alex Heazell – Stillbirth Expert
    Professor in Obstetrics & Honorary Consultant
    Obstetrician, University of Manchester
  • Dr Ed Johnstone – Expert in babies that are small for their gestational age (SGA)
    Consultant Obstetrician; Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics & Fetal Medicine, University of Manchester
  • Mr Nigel Simpson – Preterm Birth Expert
    Senior Lecturer in Obstetrics & Gynaecology, University of Leeds
  • Ms Suzanne Thomas – SGA Specialist Midwife
    SGA Specialist Midwife (Placenta Clinic & Rainbow Clinic); Research Midwife Coordinator, St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester

It is clear that improvements can be made with more knowledge and better care, and our experts are motivated to make this change happen.

In conclusion, although there have been advances in reducing mortality rates, there is room for improvement when it comes to preventing stillbirths and neonatal deaths; as shown by the work done in improving twin survival rates and perinatal mortality in general, and the number of investigated deaths that are reported as preventable with better care. The focus for future work needs to be on strategies to predict and prevent preterm births and babies that are small for their gestational age, and standardising this throughout the UK.

We believe the key is sharing expert-led knowledge and research on the most effective care pathways, as well as the recommendations made by MBRRACE centred around reporting. We need to learn to report better and filter down expertise and learning to frontline staff.

 

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